What a difference a few days can make. When I caught-up with Motorbase’s larger than life team principal on Friday morning, he was busy setting-out tables and chairs in the hospitality unit; a far from ordinary sight in the BTCC paddock, but then David Bartrum is a far from ordinary man.

Fast forward to Saturday and everyone’s effort is rewarded as Mat Jackson claims the team’s first ever BTCC pole position. One day later and the joy is sweetened with the taste of champagne as Jackson controls the race, scoring an emphatic ‘lights to flag’ victory.

Back to Friday morning.

This is Motorbase’s third weekend of racing following its self-imposed half-season exile. With two top 10 finishes at Snetterton followed by a brace of podiums at Knockhill, it’s clear that this championship might have looked very different had the Kent- based squad been in contention from the opening rounds at Brands Hatch back in early April.


I start by asking Bartrum just how important it is to have Mat Jackson leading the team, and his impressions of the progress being made by newcomer James Cole.

DB:  “Mat is Mat. He’s intricate to the whole thing. Give him a car, any car, and he’ll race the arse off it. Give him a good car and he’ll deliver time and time again. We all know where he could have been had we been able to take to the grid at the start of the year. I’m proud and gutted at the same time.James, on the other hand, still has a lot to learn, and he’ll be the first to admit this. There’s no doubting his ability, but coming-in as he did, half-way through the year, he’s been pitched into the racing without really knowing just how hard he can push. This is a very different touring car to those he’s driven in the past; it’s a much better car but he needs the time to find how he can get it to really work for him. Once his confidence grows, you’re going to see him make a big step forward.”

Despite Jackson’s obvious pace, the overall lack of track time can’t only have hurt Cole. The Saturday free practice sessions are really only about finding speed for qualifying and a balance for Sunday’s racing, so there’s no time for big repairs and few opportunities to risk pushing forward with development. I wanted to know just how difficult it had been for the team, coming-in midway through the season.

SEE ALSO:Inside the BTCC: Fast Forward for Motorbase?

DB:  “I think even we underestimated how much this championship has changed and evolved. By Snetterton, everyone around us had found their speed and rhythm; they understood the effect of the regulation changes and the impact of added weight on the tyres. We’ve had to test and learn as we race, so we were straight on the back foot. This is where Mat has been able to make the difference. His results have driven-us forward, his data’s superb, especially when success ballast has been added. So whilst we’re still not where we’d like to be, we’ve now got three weekends where we can show what we’re made of and what this car can really do.

Bartrum’s words and Jackson’s talent point towards the possibility of so much more to come from Motorbase, but the empty space across each of the team’s white Fords tells its own story. We’re now at weekend 8 out of 10 and there is still no sign of a major sponsor wanting to join in with the team’s success. I ask Bartrum if this is going to jeopardise their appearance at the remaining rounds at Silverstone and then on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit.

DavidBartrum_AlanGow_G1Bartrum on the Snetterton pit wall with series director Alan Gow – “..we’re on probation at the moment, but [Gow] understands our position..”

DB:  “The question of budget is a difficult one! Nothing has really changed. You can see the car still has lots of free (sponsorship) space! But let me answer this; are we going to be at Silverstone? Of course! And are we going to be putting on a show at Brands Hatch? Absolutely! Look, even though we didn’t attract the backing we wanted, it was very, very important for us to come back because we’ve got to regain our TBLs (TOCA BTCC Licence). We’re on probation at the moment, we’re like an old Premiership footballer, out on loan – being asked to prove our worth before gaining a permanent place in the dressing room. We know what’s expected of us.”“Obviously, we had to work long and hard with Alan Gow when we decided that we wouldn’t be able to go racing. I went to see him, and it wasn’t easy; it wasn’t easy for both of us, but at the end of the day…, not straight away mind you, he understood our position and I was able to say this is what we’re going to do in the meantime, and we’ll be back for Snetterton. We were, of course, hoping to come back with a big name down the side of the cars but as you can see, we haven’t got one, so we’re working to Plan B, operating on a really tight budget with a much reduced team, hence the reason I’m here with Oly (Collins, Motorbase’s team manager), setting-up for lunch.”

Motorbase isn’t just a leading touring car team, it’s also currently vying for the British GT title (as Oman Racing Team), racing the Aston Martin Vantage GT3. You’d think that this would be an envious position to find yourself in but Bartrum knows that you don’t gain success at this level by over burdening resources.

DB:  “Despite not having the backing we need, I’ve decided to carry-on using separate crews for the GTs and Touring Cars. It’s stretching us more than we wanted but it’s important that I look after the people who look after the cars. We have to play to our strengths. We’re a well organised business with all the tools at hand to do a proper job. The GT team is doing incredibly well right now and Mat has already showed outstanding pace in the Focus. So we’re right in there, right at the sharp end as far as the racing is concerned. And in the paddock too, we can roll-out all the kit to put on a good show for sponsors and their guests. So our aims for the rest of this season are simple; we want to showcase the pace in the car with as many strong qualifying and race results as we can take, and we want to use this to make a cast-iron case for sponsors and partners who can see the benefits of working with us in 2016. If this means I need to get my hands dirty, show me where.”

Bartrum is a brutally honest man. And a skilled performer too. He knows how his words travel and the importance of the support they can gather.

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Left: Jackson’s decision to save his car and tyres by sitting-out the first practice session was repaid with a stunning pole position lap later in the day.
Right: The Motorbase Team keep a watchful eye over James Cole as the ex-Formula Ford Champion makes his way up the BTCC grid.

The talk of partners moves the conversation towards Mountune, the world renowned engine builder. In the winter of 2014, Mountune was fresh from WRX Team Championship success with the Ford Fiesta ST. It had ambitious plans to make its 2.0 EcoBoost the future stock engine of the NGTC. Bartrum had immediately recognised the potential of Mountune’s product and had been keen to ensure that his 2015 cars harnessed its power.

DB: “Mountune are a massive part of our touring car programme. They’ve worked incredibly hard to develop our engine and deliver a package that gives us confidence with both its power and reliability . . . and do you know what? They’re just as much a part of the reason for coming-back as anything else. It was a blow to them when they weren’t asked to produce TOCA’s own engines so we want to show just how capable they are: TOCA’s loss is our gain.”

A solid engine package is clearly a key ingredient to any successful campaign. So how, having the EcoBoost power its cars, has this influenced Motorbase’s approach to overall development?

DB:  “The engine has been a big part of our progress but it’s not all of it. The previous Duratec was very top-ended too. It’s a key piece of the jigsaw but it’s not the whole picture. The difference, however, is that previously, we were refining the chassis to an engine that needed updating. Now we’re able to focus on the chassis, knowing that we have a powertrain that’s already at the top of its game.”

On any other day, you could look at the picture that’s being painted and imagine a British Touring Car Championship in 2016 where Motorbase lead the way. But what, then, of TOCA’s newly announced technical partnership contract with RML? How will the introduction of new standardised chassis and suspension components affect the team’s ability to consolidate its performance?

DB:  “Well yes, as much as we’d like to be able to take this car forward to next season, already on the horizon, we have the 2016 suspension updates being proposed by RML. We know that they’ve got some very good components coming through but whether we can all afford them or not is another story. There’s a hidden expense behind any major new part and that’s the need for additional testing; the need to understand how to extract the benefit from the money you’ve just spent. On the other hand, there’s also a cost to not having them; the performance loss to the better funded teams. It’s an expensive and vicious circle that needs to be negotiated, but I think that what you’ve seen from all we’ve achieved in this championship, and everything we’re doing in GTs, is that we’re a team that knows how to win, no matter what’s thrown at us.”

The problem facing Bartrum is that the one thing not being thrown at him is the funding needed to secure Motorbase’s stay at the sharp-end of the grid. There is, regrettably, little fairness where sponsorship is concerned. You’re either born with a titanium spoon in your mouth, or you’re destined to have to fight your way through every weekend. It’s simply the way in the ordinary world of everyday motorsport. Where success is as much about hard cash, timing and luck as it is about talent, skill and devotion. It is, perhaps, fortunate then that Bartrum is a formidable man leading an extraordinary effort.

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Bartrum believes “it’s important to look after the people who look after the cars”; the result on Sunday was a 1st and 2nd place for Mat Jackson at Rockingham.

This current season of BTCC has been remarkable for the way that the independent and family run teams have been able to raise their game and challenge for points and places, even outright wins.

My fear is that this is about to change. I can see a new chasm evolving; where ‘the haves’ adorn the podium, freshly tanned from weeks spent testing in the winter sun, and the ‘have nots’ are duly returned to their supporting role, and days and nights spent wondering what might have been.

I hope I’m wrong. I rejoice in the full grids, the close and hard fought battles, the stars of tomorrow running wheel to wheel with their idols. I seriously hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, I want to believe that Bartrum can conjure a strong and lengthy partnership that can pull Motorbase forward. It’s not happened yet, but like so many others, I have to believe.


+ On Sunday morning, ‘Duo’ branding appeared on both Motorbase cars.
+ In Race 2, despite carrying 75kg of success ballast, Mat Jackson raced from P3 on the grid to finish 2nd
+ With an average points tally of 11.67 per race, Jackson is the joint 2nd highest points per race scorer in this season’s BTCC.